Wednesday, January 19, 2022


Arrow!  Black arrow!  I have saved you to the last.  You have never failed me and always I have recovered you.  I had you from my father and he from of old.  If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!

Bard's request to the his arrow in The Hobbit brought to mind an idea, perhaps just by close proximity between "asking your weapons nicely for things" and the word "bard".  If magic weapons have spirit, feelings, morale, can be delighted by deeds and moved by fair speech, then maybe enhancing/inspiring weapons is a reasonable ability for a bard of all classes.  Or something much like a bard, anyway.

There's sort of precedent in the Loddfafnismol, too, where Odin tells a young man about the magic songs he knows.

An eleventh [song] I know, | if needs I must lead
To the fight my long-loved friends;
I sing in the shields, | and in strength they go
Whole to the field of fight,
Whole from the field of fight,
And whole they come thence home.

(It's easy to forget that Odin was a rather bardy god; one of the early acts of his feud with the giants was seducing Gunnloth, the daughter of the frost giant Suttung, and with her help stealing the mead of poetry from Suttung.  While fleeing the giants he spilled some of the mead, and men got poetry by his mistake)

This all comes back 'round to Dwarfhack.  I had wrestled with painting runes on equipment as an appropriately-dwarven way to get potent effects that win combats decisively in the absence of sleep, filling the function of the MU without the classic MU spell list.  But the annoying little details around time to paint runes and smudging when used and so forth seemed significant.  And the dwarves in The Hobbit don't do much with runes - while the treasure map is written in runic script, and the moon-writing on it too, the only runed arms they find are of elvish make.  They do sing a lot though...

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Week as Wilderness Turn

Last post, I noted that the distances and times involved in wilderness travel in The Hobbit were so great that a game in that style might want to use 24-mile hexes as its smallest unit, and a week as its "turn" of wilderness travel.  What does it look like if you take B/X's or ACKS' rules for wilderness travel and rescale them this way?  What would you probably have to change and what could you leave alone?

If you're taking a week as your base unit of time, then you no longer have to worry about taking a rest day per week, and can just bake it in.  So you're scaling up your movement or actions per "turn" by a factor of 6, since you get six working days.  Using 24 mile hexes vs 6 mile, you're scaling up your unit of distance by a factor of 4.  So movement will be ~1.5x more hexes per turn.

Exploration movement speed : 24 mile hexes / week

  • 30' : 1.5
  • 60' : 3
  • 90' : 4.5
  • 120' : 6
  • 180' : 9
  • 240' : 12

So that's rather inconvenient, having to reckon in half-hexes.  I suppose we could do something like this, taking woods or hills as the default and multiplying everything by 2/3, so we get 1 24-mile hex per week per 30' of speed.  Which would be pretty clean, until you're on plains or road.

Nautical and aerial distances covered get quite large when you look at them on per-week timescales.  The lowly rowed canoe makes 4 hexes per week, while sailing ships with good winds might make nearly 8 hexes per day, or north of 50 hexes per week (assuming no weekly day of rest under sail).  Aerial travel gets pretty nuts when you multiply it all by 1.5 as well.  These modes of transport are fast enough that you probably don't want to track them hex-by-hex on a map on weekly timescales. You use sailing ships to move between maps.  You fly Eagle Airways for a couple of hours, not for a solid week (and still might get to move a hex or two).  Getting a personal, permanent flying mount is a phase-change event where you have outgrown thinking much about wilderness travel.

Since forced march is only one day of extra speed, followed by a day of rest and no speed, if we're dealing purely in weeks you might be able to just remove the option.  On the other hand, I like leaving this sort of option available to players; trading off now vs later is always interesting.  Maybe the right way to handle forced march on this scale is through something like strategic initiative in mass combat, where when you have a wilderness encounter, you can choose to forced-march to maybe gain a terrain advantage, bonus to escape roll, or surprise bonus at the expense of fatigue if brought to battle.

The right way to handle getting lost / failed navigation rolls is probably that they reduce your movement for the turn.  Maybe halve it; you spend a couple days wandering around within hexes that you were traversing, but going 24 miles out of your way is hard.  Could do hunting the same way; spend the whole week hunting, don't move at all, and get two rolls, or spend half the week hunting, get one roll, and half movement (and then if you also get lost that week, you end up still in the hex you started in).

Rations might actually get simpler, at a stone per man per "turn".  And fresh ration decay could be simplified too; you could just have all uneaten fresh rations go bad every turn.  Then hunting and foraging can work entirely within a single week; if you find a week's worth of fresh rations, that's a stone of iron rations that you can skip eating and carry over into next week.  So then you only need to track one number: the stone of iron rations you're carrying, which might also be thought of as your buffer against foraging failures.

As far as combat resources go...  for a Hobbity feel, you really want some refuges in the wilderness where you can recover hit points.  I still think recovering spells there too (not every night in the wilderness) makes sense, provided some reworking of mid- and high-level spells.  But I could see going the other way with it too, where you're pretty much always going to have full spells for any encounter.  This lends itself to very large encounters where you need lots of spellpower to bail the party out.

Wilderness encounter frequency definitely gets weird.  You probably don't want to have to roll a pile of d6s every "turn", and having multiple encounters per unit time is awkward.  I could see having one encounter per week, with the difference between terrain types being "roll n encounters and pick the scariest / biggest one".  Or just a quantity multiplier like dungeon level, where if you're in mountains you get 3x as many goblins as if you were in plains.  But this also doesn't quite square with the frequency of wilderness encounters in The Hobbit, where they can go a couple weeks without an encounter.  I could see having some <100% chance per week of an encounter, but when there's an encounter, it's always a lair - a kingdom of elves, a whole cave system of goblins, a big honkin' pack of wargs, a gang of trolls with accompanying cave full of magic swords of elven make.  On the time-and-space scales you're dealing with here, you might encounter a warband from a lair initially, but within a week they'll report back (or be noticed missing) and you'll be dealing with the whole village shortly.  Maybe winning surprise lets you only deal with one warband initially.

Domains get...  maybe a little messy.  Clearing a 24-mile hex is a lot of work.  You could do something like wilderness lords, where every wilderness hex already has a "lord" of a sort, and if you can knock him and all his monsters over that's good enough, the rest migrate or fall into line.  This is particularly plausible in a setting where everything talks, but might feel a bit strained after the third or fourth time, and maintaining relationships between all the "lords" of neighboring hexes is a lot of work.  Another approach might be clearing to capacity; if you want to build a village, you have to displace a number of HD of monsters comparable to a village of goblins.  This is what you might expect in a wilderness that is at capacity, saturated.  But this isn't the wilderness we see in The Hobbit, which is as post-apocalyptically empty of monsters as it is of men.

Maybe that's an answer - "clearing" a wilderness hex just means dealing with any already-known lairs in it, and then the real game is dealing with wilderness random encounters, which could have wandered in from nearby hexes, or could be from unknown lairs in the hex.  Taking land is easy; holding it is the hard part.  This creates a sort of "the dungeon is too big to be cleared" feeling, and is also consistent with the incomplete clearing of eg Mirkwood by the elves.  It pushes domain rulers into the same sort of reactive posture of incomplete control in game that they held in the fiction.

Switching to 24-mile hexes changes visibility somewhat, in that the edge of the hex is over the horizon.  You could spend a week exploring within a single hex, easily, and unless the next hex over is elevated, you might not know what terrain type it is until you enter it.  Finding a dungeon within a hex might take a while, but that's consistent with the fiction too, where they can't find the back door into the mountain.  They have trouble finding Rivendell too.

This mode of play doesn't seem terribly well-suited to 1:1 timescales, if most weeks you don't have an encounter.  I could see doing two turns per week of real time though, to make sure there's time to resolve wilderness encounters without too many more piling up.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Hobbit

I realized I hadn't read much in the last year, and that I had been dancing around Tolkien, reading his Catholic British contemporaries (Ker, Chesterton, and Lewis' Screwtape Letters), and decided I ought to just go revisit the man himself.  I'm pretty sure my mother read The Hobbit to me and my brother when we were small but I don't think I'd read it myself (certainly not since coming across OSR D&D).  I have not seen the film(s?) and do not plan to.

It may be worth noting here that I am taking the text of The Hobbit alone, ignoring the whole rest of the canon from elsewhere as best I can.  I think I like it better this way.  I will probably read The Lord of the Rings next, but for now I want to consider only what is written in The Hobbit.  And I want to get it written down, so that after the trilogy I can look back in on it.  This may not be the "correct" way to read the The Hobbit, but it may turn out to be a worthwhile way nonetheless.

I found it delightful.  I wish more D&D were in the model of The Hobbit than in that of The Lord of the Rings.

They're not out to save the world.  They're very explicitly not heroes.  The motives of most of the characters most of the time are Thucydidean - "fear, honor, and self-interest".

There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much.

That [attempting to slay Smaug] would be no good, not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero.  I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighborhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found...  That is why I settled on burglary.

Of the dwarves, only Thorin gives a consistently decent account of himself in battle (hitting a troll in the face with a stick,  holding the goblins with Orcrist, and shooting the white hart).  They get stuffed in sacks, chained up by goblins, webbed by spiders, and imprisoned by elves without offering any effectual resistance.  They sing better than they fight.  Their courage fails at the foot of the mountain and only Bilbo prods them on.  They worked as blacksmiths and coal miners before this; Fili and Kili are young and inexperienced, Balin at least is old, and Bombur is very fat.  These are not Dain's elite heavy infantry, "strong even for dwarves".  These are dwarven vagabonds with a map, a key, desperate scheme, a hobbit, sometimes a wizard, and a good deal of luck.  They are, in short, exactly what we might expect of low-level dwarven PCs in OSR games.

The mere fleeting glimpses of treasure which they had caught as they went along had rekindled all the fire in their dwarvish hearts; and when the heart of a dwarf, even the most respectable, is wakened by gold and by jewels, he grows suddenly bold, and he may become fierce.

He did not reckon with the power that gold has upon which a dragon has long brooded, nor with dwarvish hearts.

And like my players of old, how loathe they are to give up what is theirs!  Though it be a great burden and a danger in itself!

The treasure is likely to be your death, though the dragon is no more!

How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don't know.

And like a third-level character come suddenly into a great deal of treasure and a fortress, Thorin handles it ineptly and it is his doom - in contrast with Dain, who "dealt his treasure well". 

And like combat in the OSR, defeat is miserable and victory is pyrrhic.

I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious.  It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing.  I wish I was well out of it.

"Victory after all, I suppose!"  he said, feeling his aching head.  "Well, it seems a very gloomy business."

And then the setting (or at least the parts much described) is the sort of howling emptiness implied by OSR systems.  But working from just this text, there isn't much of an apocalypse.  The Wild was not ruined by any central force, no great, shattering event, no unveiling.  Most of it was ruined by just...  neglect.  Decay.  Entropy.  Nobody is putting in the maintenance.  Certainly there are evil forces at work, but for the most part they're opportunists filling a vacuum, not part of some grand plan.

The marshes and bogs had spread wider and wider on either side.  Paths had vanished, and many a rider and wanderer too, if they had tried to find the lost ways across.  The elf-road through the wood which the dwarves had followed on the advice of Beorn now came to a doubtful and little used end at the eastern edge of the forest; only the river offered any longer a safe way from the skirts of Mirkwood in the North to the mountain-shadowed plains beyond, and the river was guarded by the Wood-elves' king.

There were many paths that led up into those mountains, and many passes over them.  But most of the paths were cheats and deceptions and led nowhere or to bad ends; and most of the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers.

The old maps are no use: things have changed for the worse and the road is unguarded.  They have seldom even heard of the king round here, and the less inquisitive you are as you go along, the less trouble you are likely to find. 

An argument could be made, of course, that Smaug is the relevant apocalypse.  But that hardly explains the lawlessness of the Lone-lands between Hobbiton and the Misty Mountains, unless the reach of Dale was once very great indeed.  The giants have the power to shut up the exits of the goblins, but they don't (unless Gandalf is able to "find a more or less decent giant").  The wood elves waylay travelers, hunt the white hart, and get drunk on Dorwinion wine, and the spiders multiply.  The eagles seldom take notice of the goblins.  Beorn keeps his territory clear but only goes so far.  What has Elrond done lately?  The Lake-men have surplus enough to outfit and feed the dwarves but don't seem to be pushing out either, as the Master is content to maintain his little bubble of peace.  Dain waging war on the goblins of Moria seems to be very much the exception in that he is active (with Gandalf being the other active player for good, setting the trip in motion and working on the problem of the Necromancer while they're in Mirkwood).

No, the real cause of the ruin of the Wild seems to me to be apathy.  Not so grand as a Dark Lord, but much more true to life.

I love the passage of the seasons; it is something that I always want to evoke in my open-world games and something that I never seem to get quite right.  The distances are so great!  To run a campaign in this style, one might be well-served by 24-mile hexes as the smallest unit, and wilderness turns of a week.  I love that the place-names are plain English - Misty Mountains, Lonely Mountain, Iron Hills, Blasted Heath, Rivendell / Riven Dale, Mirkwood / Murk Wood, Long Lake, Wood River, River Rushing, Dale, and Lake-town.  Moria, Gondolin, and Dorwinion are proper names but only referenced, never seen; only at the end does Tolkien sneak in "Esgaroth" as a proper name for a place seen (Lake-town) in the style of the names of places in the trilogy.  

I love the talking of all the animals; everything bigger than a bat seems to have a voice and a language.  How often have I bemoaned that animal encounters on the wilderness encounter table are a waste of time for a mid-level party of reasonable size?  How much less of a waste would they be if they could talk?  If they could be bargained with, asked for information, deceived, taunted?

"O Thorin son of Thrain, and Balin son of Fundin," he [a raven] croaked (and Bilbo could understand what he said, for he used ordinary language and not bird-speech).  "I am Roac son of Carc."

In the middle of the circle was a great grey wolf.  He spoke to them in the dreadful language of the Wargs.  Gandalf understood it.  Bilbo did not, but it sounded terrible to him, and as if all their talk was about cruel and wicked things, as it was.

In the silence and stillness of the wood he realized that these loathsome creatures [spiders] were speaking to one another.  Their voices were a sort of thin creaking and hissing, but he could make out many of the words that they said.  They were talking about the dwarves!

 Weapons, too, have a touch of soul to them:

It burned with a rage that made it gleam if goblins were about; now it was bright as blue flame for delight in the killing of the great lord of the cave.

Arrow!  Black arrow!  I have saved you to the last.  You have never failed me and always I have recovered you.  I had you from my father and he from of old.  If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!

When was the last time a magic weapon in your game was delighted?  Sure, sentient swords are in the tables, but how often do you even bother rolling for them, so seldom rolled and then so inconvenient to sort out and keep track of when you do?

It's just...  grounded, I suppose.  There is no cosmic struggle here.  Magic when it appears is mostly small wonders, in talking birds and delighted swords and water that makes you sleep.  Dwarves can be wicked, eagles can be cruel, Beorn and the Elf-king are very suspicious of visitors, and Thorin and the master of Lake-town are overcome by avarice not because there is any agent of a dark power whispering in their ears but just...  because of a moral failing.

I have dodged entirely talking about the hobbit himself and whether his desire the whole time to be home in comfort is of a kind with the apathy that is the ruin of the Wild, or wisdom, or both.

The stars are far brighter
Than gems without measure,
The moon is far whiter
Than silver in treasure;
The fire is more shining
On hearth in the gloaming
Than gold won by mining,
So why go a-roaming?

Maybe Bilbo's peculiar virtue is that he can be moved to adventure in the first place, and that once begun, he remains to see it through to the end in spite of his want of comfort and normalcy (which I suspect is quietly shared by almost every other "good" character but the dwarves).  And that like Rary as played by Blume, he knows when the job is done, rather than having his appetite for treasure become insatiable once whetted.

In any case, I am glad to have read it, and apologize for the rambling post (initially I had planned a series of more tightly-focused posts, but oh well).

Friday, December 10, 2021

ACKS Budget Dungeons: The Wages of Wizardry

Last post, I talked about the idea of designing dungeons under constraints.  I noted that designing dungeons using an in-world budget would be kind of a pain, but sleeping on it, ACKS does give us the tools to do that - there's the table of structural feature prices (shared with OSE), putting a 10x10 square of dungeon corridor at 500gp, and ACKS' heuristic that a character with n XP has earned about 80% of that from GP recovered, plus the section in Domains at War: Campaigns on using magic to assist construction projects.  Though looking over the guidelines there, it seems like using magic for underground construction would be tricky - Transmute Rock to Mud carries a collapse risk, Move Earth only works on earth and not stone, and Wall of Stone is dispellable.  Most of these spells only increase the construction rate of manual laborers, rather than contributing value directly.  Honestly Disintegrate might be the choice here for carving out dungeon cubes - but if you have a wizard with Disintegrate, pricing dungeon corridors gets weird, because they're free in money but not free in time.

In any case, to conclude that tangent, magic construction techniques might not be that useful for dungeons, but we can still get a decent estimate on how much dungeon a wizard could build based on their lifetime earnings, at 80% of their earned XP in GP.  Sadly this breaks down in ACKS specifically at high levels because of the domain XP threshold rule, where you can earn GP from your domains but don't get XP for it.  Fortunately, wizards earn the vast majority of their domain XP from spending money on magic research projects, so for now I'm not going to worry about this.

Let's consider two edge cases: the newly-fledged 9th-level wizard, and the biggest, baggest archmage who ever archmaged, 14th level.  310k XP and 1.06 million XP, respectively, for lifetime earnings of 248 kGP and right around 800 kGP.  Presumably some of that will probably have been spent on towers, libraries, workshops, henchmen, research projects, etc - 20-25% on a dungeon seems reasonable.  Let's call it 50k GP dungeon budget for the newly-minted wizard and 200k for the archmage.  What does that get you?

Well, at 500 gp per 10' cube, about 100 10' cubes for the wizard, assuming nothing else.  A 30x30 room is 9 cubes, so that's about 11 such rooms assuming no hallways, maybe 10 if you leave some budget for hallways and doors and such.  If 30% of dungeon rooms contain monsters, then we should expect about three monster rooms.  Given typical % in lair chances, we might see one lair or we might not.  Going down to 30x20 rooms as your standard size gets you 15-16 rooms instead with some slop for hallways, which is still about 5 monster rooms, one of which is a lair.  So that is not a big dungeon.

And then in the archmage case, you're working with quadruple the budget, so something on the order of 40-60 rooms, with 13-20 monster rooms of which around 3-7 are lairs?

Huh.  So I guess if you take "dungeons come from wizards" seriously, dungeons probably shouldn't be enormous, for any model of wizards where they're secretive rather than cooperative with other wizards.  Which seems a bit obvious in retrospect, but it's interesting to see just how small is really reasonable.

At the very high end, where you have a max-XP archmage who has spent 75% of his lifetime earnings on dungeon-building rather than 25%, you triple that again, up to 120-180 rooms, 40-60 monsters rooms including 10-20 lairs.

Looking back over price lists, one amusing consequence I could see coming out of this is in stairwells - a 10' wide flight of wooden stairs costs 60gp, while a 10' wide flight of stone stairs costs 180gp.  So a wizard cheaping out on stairs might use wood instead of stone, and that creates some amusing potential interactions with fire (and certain jelly-type monsters, I suppose).  Hey, you're a pro, you can Levitate, right?  Stairs are for chumps.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Boss Monster and Budget Dungeons

A friend mentioned a card game today that I hadn't heard of called Boss Monster, and described it as a game where each player is building a dungeon and whoever ends up with the deadliest dungeon wins.

It got me thinking about building dungeons on a budget.  Part of the reason One Page Dungeon Contest has had the success it has is that the constraints it imposes encourage a certain amount of creativity.  What other constraints might we consider?

The first that springs to mind is literal, in-game budget.  Work out prices for 10'x10' squares of cleared area, doors, monsters, traps, etc, and see what people can come up with when their scale is limited by that resource.  But that's a very accountanty approach.

A time budget might also be interesting.  One Hour Dungeon Contest, anyone?  Even if the products themselves end up not being very interesting, I could see such a thing leading to the development of tooling and processes optimized for saving time.  Maybe one hour isn't really reasonable - maybe three is enough to get something interesting but still constrained enough for it to matter?  I dunno, might take some tuning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Gisli's Saga and Boot Hill

I read Gisli's Saga the other day and something about it reminded me of Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill campaign.  It got me thinking about how one could set up a powderkeg for a saga quite similar to that, but perhaps smaller in number of characters.

Thorkel and Gisli are brothers from Norway who settle in Hawkdale in Iceland, and marry into Hawkdale families.  Gisli marries Auda, the sister of a man named Vestein, while Thorkel marries Asgerda.  It comes out that Asgerda fancied Vestein, leading to suspicions of infidelity and eventually the deaths of about a dozen men.

Asgerda's interest in (already-married) Vestein is a pre-existing fault line in the micro-setting that the player-character-like outsiders Thorkel and Gisli stumble (and then marry) into.  It doesn't seem like it would be too much of a stretch to build a tiny setting of 5-10 extended families with a bunch of such fault lines:

  • a long-simmering dispute over grazing-land or property lines
  • a contentious dividing of property among a man's heirs
  • a father who mislikes his daughter's favored suitor
  • a bastard child whose step-mother hates it
  • a badly-treated thrall
  • a wheel of cheese stolen in a hard winter
  • a good sword borrowed and never returned
  • a badly-given gift
  • a lad whose father was slain, who wants eventual revenge on his killer but can't get it yet
  • an insult in one's cups at the Althing some years back; cooler heads prevented bloodshed then but still it rankles
  • weregeld accepted for a relative slain but some family members still think the slayer should've been made an outlaw instead
  • a suspected cheater at sports or horse-fighting
  • a man envious of another's wealth, desirous of the priesthood / chieftainship
  • a rich man who is miserly to guests and alters deals, gets away with it because he has several strong brothers
  • a skilled duelist who runs roughshod and takes what he pleases, challenges those who object (returns from sea-roving mid-campaign to shake things up, presumably)
  • a suspected sorcerer feared by those outside his family
  • three town gossips poking their noses in everything and spreading news of dubious veracity
  • a skolding wife who urges her husband to unwise deeds
  • a husband who mistreated his wife, causing her to return to her family's house; a dispute over the dowry
  • a hot-headed young man, yet unproven in battle and eager for it (probably about ten of these, really)
  • a cool-headed young man, goaded by his father as unmanly for preferring words to violence
  • a wise man's foreboding prediction
  • an ominous dream

And then let some player characters loose into it to get into trouble over the course of a few years of game-time.

I don't know what system you'd use for such a game - Pendragon, Mythras, and Wolves of God all spring to mind, but they're not quite Boot Hill.  But it's an interesting thought.

... I suppose it would be amusing to hack up Boot Hill's ranged combat system to instead do high-detail, few-combatant, armorless melees of axes, bill-hooks, spears, swords, and shields...  "Grim cut off Skiolld's foot at the ankle-joint, but Helgi thrust him through with his spear, and he got his death there and then" seems like the sort of thing a derivative of Boot Hill's combat system would do well.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Tooling for 1:1 Timescale Games

I've had boring, practical questions about how to run 1:1 timescale games rolling around in the back of my head for I guess a couple months now.

  • World-design considerations.
    • Many of the games of that era seemed centered around a single city and/or megadungeon (Blackmoor, Castle Greyhawk, and the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, for example), and Jeff's Trollopulous seems to have followed a somewhat-similar pattern.  How important is having a central locus like this?
    • Is the right way to lay out a region for this style of play more radial, with wilderness increasing out away from The City, rather than a linear civilization->borderlands->wilderness gradient from a large, civilized heartland?
    • What's the right scale, so that travel is long enough to be a meaningful allocation of time-resources, but not so long that the game grinds to a halt as everyone is traveling?
  • Session structure.
    • BDubs' game seems to have a core community of players who play adventuring PCs and have a regular session, often dungeoneering, every week, plus some set of patron players doing their own thing in the background.  This seems like it doesn't scale up arbitrarily (but what does, really?).
    • Jeffro's adventurer-level players seem to play more like patrons, doing their own thing, maybe jumping an injured patron and taking his stuff, rather than partying up and having regular sessions where they go into dungeons.  
    • And then there's Gygax's example, where (purportedly) people would show up at his house unannounced and he'd run a session.
    • Under what circumstances do which of these different approaches to sessions (or lack thereof) work well?
  • Keeping the information organized.  What's the right (or at least adequate) way to keep the information about who is doing what when where (and when they'll be finished) organized?  And how do you keep (at least some of) that information secret, to let the interesting behavior emerge from patron interactions under fog of war?
    • Index cards?
    • Spreadsheets?
    • Shared google calendar?
    • Paper calendar that only the DM has access to?
    • Gantt charts (lol)?
    • Database?
  • How do you make such a style of play amenable / accessible to more casual players rather than just "elite auditor mindset" players?  (I'm bummed that I can't find either BDubs' or Jeffro's post where that phrase was invoked)

I think I have an angle of attack on one of the information organization question, at least.

The answer is databases.

This post brought to you by my assignment at work this week, auditing code that interacts heavily with databases

Why?  Because you can automate around them.

The barest, crudest sketch goes like this: have a table of ongoing operations with start dates, end dates, and descriptions.  When someone starts something, add it to the table.  Have a table of players, including their discord IDs, and a table containing (operation ID, player) pairs of "players who should be notified when this operation finishes".  Have a discord bot that runs every night at midnight, checks to see if any operations have finished on day rollover, marks them complete, and notifies players (and probably DM) by PM.

Ha, maybe run the bot at 5PM instead, right as people are getting off of work - a character's work for the day is done at that time too.  And any "orders" gotten in before 9AM the next day are completed by 5PM the next day.

But this doesn't really let you answer the question of "what is any particular character doing at the moment?"; there's no notion of character there.  So maybe we also want a table of characters (including an "owning player" column), and then a table with (operation ID, character ID) pairs indicating "this character is currently unavailable for play because they're busy with this long-running thing".

Of course, once you have a table for characters, it's very tempting to throw their stats and XP in there too...  and a table for all the unidentified magic items they're hauling around, with both the in-world description you've given and the actual identity of the item.  And how many charges that wand that they figured out the command-word for but never really properly identified has left.

It would be kinda nice to put wilderness expedition logistics information in there too and update it on nightly rollover...  but that gets a bit thorny because then we need a notion of a party, which presumably can have a set of characters (as well as a count of NPCs like mercenaries and shared equipment like wagons), and which might be busy with an ongoing operation (like overland travel).  So then we run into this: do we have a table of party/operation pairs, for parties that are busy?  Do we then query party membership to determine which characters are busy, or also still have a character/operation table and have to check both it and party membership?  Or do we just have a party/operation table, and have parties of only one character sometimes?  That might be kind of nice, for the case where you pick up friends along the way (or lose friends along the way and a party goes down to just one member).

Do we want some notion of location?  Of grid coordinates?  (I really hate programming against hex grids)  Parties having a location which is updated overnight based on their overland speed?  (But then I would need to encode their paths too, which sounds painful...  maybe this is a good argument for Arnesonian "12 miles a day regardless of terrain")  But it would be neat that if there are multiple parties in the same location in the wilderness, they might have a chance meeting.  Automatic random encounter determination, putting a pause on the travel operation until resolved?

If we're already considering notifying players in response to stuff in the world, we could extend that for information flow and intelligence.  Maybe having a spy in a location adds you to the notification list for start and completion of operations in that location.  Maybe operations should have secret vs common-knowledge descriptions, with spies having some chance to uncover the secret descriptions and town gossips yielding the common-knowledge ones.  Spies might dispatch messengers in response to some operations beginning or ending, creating operations in their turn for the messengers to travel to their destination.  Some notion of queuing news at a place (to be received on your return) might be necessary.  Automatic weekly collation of common-knowledge events in (say) a central city into a "News in Kezmarok" style digest sent to all players could be neat, and a good way for players to advertise "looking for group" or patrons to advertise "looking for temporary, deniable help".

Finally, NPC actions.  If you have all this tooling for keeping track of what PCs are up to, it seems natural to extend it to also keeping track of what NPCs are up to.  Clocks on steroids; give "orcish warlord gathers horde" a concrete end-date and set it up to notify just you, the DM, when it finishes.  And if players interfere, move the end date around accordingly.  Likewise, if you want to send an NPC party on a wilderness/trade expedition, make a series of operations, one to travel there, one to buy and sell goods for a week or two, and one to travel back.  NPC party raids a dungeon?  Make a single die roll to see how they did, make an operation where they take a week of bedrest and recruiting, and then put them out of your mind.  They're in motion, you don't need to worry about them for a week.  But your players might hear about them automatically.

This starts to look a lot more like a living world.   And the table of operations starts to look like a log of all the stuff that happened outside of combat, which would be a pretty neat artifact of a campaign (much like player-produced maps are a neat artifact). 

It also seems like it would be pretty easy to keep it game-system-agnostic.  Character stats seem like the most likely place to break this, and I'm not even sure I really want them.